Canada Screens and FWC Celebrate Xavier Dolan at Cannes 2016!

First Weekend Club and Canada Screens offer congratulations to prolific Canadian filmmaker & actor, Xavier Dolan on his premiere at Cannes 2016! The 27 year old Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s new film, Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) is officially in the running for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival! To celebrate, we’ve got TWO of his film feats available to rent online from our VOD at!


One day Glenn Cockburn of Meridien Artists Management had the incredible idea to create a writing workshop that was more than simply ‘how to become a writer’, one that delved deeply into the craft and business of screenwriting with top speakers from Canada and Hollywood. Today that conference, the Toronto Screenwriting Conference, is in it’s 7th year. We spoke with the winners of the Telefilm New Voices Award about their experiences at this year’s event.

John Ward

The conference had so many great sessions it’s hard to single out a specific highlight. Corey Mandell’s inspiring sessions were full of advice and practical tools; Stephen Falk’s talk on breaking an entire season was as hilarious as it was instructive; and the conversation with Moira-Walley-Beckett gave us insight into her writing journey and the Breaking Bad writers room. My personal highlight was listening to Glen Mazzara. His sessions were simply amazing; thought-provoking, passionate, and made me want to immediately rush home and start writing. Overall it was a fantastic conference. 

John is currently pitching his pilot “Flux” – an episodic sci-fi about an unlikely team of cops and criminals forced to work together to change the future, and also “Dodge & Burn” – a show about an undercover Mountie who’s also the leader of the criminal organization he was sent to infiltrate. 

Ana de Lara

The Toronto Screenwriting Conference was an amazing experience.  The whole weekend was phenomenal. I left motivated and inspired by the variety of writing tools, perspectives, experiences, and words or wisdom presented by the speakers.  Highlights for me include meeting Glenn Cockburn, having my mind blown away by Corey Mandell’s sessions, and leaving knowing that I have tools I can apply to elevate my current projects and progress my career.

Ana is currently working on the following projects. Her first feature film screenplay, The Virgin Mary Had a Little Lamb, a comedy told with magic realism about a Filipina-Canadian girl who loves the Virgin Mary, wants to be just like the Virgin Mary, and what happens to her when God answers her prayers.

The Chosen One is a supernatural horror feature,  about a Filipina-Canadian playwright who must stop dark forces that have been summoned by Filipino witchcraft from attacking her sanity.

Yellow Magic, a comedic webseriesabout a Filipina witch who flees to Canada to escape from her family’s association with witchcraft.  When her past catches up with her, the idyllic suburban neighbourhood where she resides is never the same. 

Kim Izzo

It was an amazing experience to be in the same room with such incredible talent as the speakers at this year’s TSC. Glen Mazzara’s frank and often hilarious talk about Anti-heroes on Day One and then the behind the scenes of creating and filming his new series Damian gave me a lot of insight into the evolution of television  and were the medium is going. I was also riveted to In-Conversation with Moira Whalley-Beckett because Breaking Bad is one of  my favourite shows it was a treat to hear stories from that particular writer’s room and she was truly inspiring. I also felt that Interview with the Executive, Nicole Clemens from FX was an absolute must, it was enlightening from a writer’s perspective to hear firsthand how FX approaches story, pitching and the value of the writer. I will definitely be back for TSC 2017! 

She is currently finishing off the final draft of my feature, The Shame Sisters, for the NSI Script to Screen program as well as developing several television pilots scripts. 

Rebecca Hales

The Toronto Screenwriting Conference has the best screenwriting content of any conference I have attended. It’s so much more than just great stories from top industry professionals – though those are GREAT. It’s really about master classes in craft, process, production, and development. Glenn Mazzara walked us through the provenance of the anti-hero. Stephen Falk walked us through the entire season development process he uses on You’re The Worst complete with photos of his boards. Moira Walley-Becket talked about life on Breaking Bad and the lessons she brought to Flesh and Bone. Nicole Clemens gave a real breakdown of how FX Network finds and fosters groundbreaking TV. Everyone came to talk about the business in real terms, not platitudes and anecdotes. My personal highlight was Corey Mandell and his very practical teachings on Integration and Story Engines. I know I’m not alone in saying it was a game changer. He got a standing ovation for a reason! 

Rebecca Hales is currently working on a spy thriller in which a young woman’s world is shattered when her parents are arrested on suspicion of terrorism, and a half hour cable comedy that takes a surreal look at identity and those little voices in our heads.

Maria Dame

Lunch in a private room at The Spoke Club was the prefect kick off to the conference. It was super cool to talk to Moira about Breaking Bad and her transition from acting to writing; to Melissa about Super Chanel and her move to Toronto, to hear Dan’s remarkable story of how he ended up working for Telefilm and to learn from Glenn that his reading of Elephant Bucks was the catalyst that got him thinking about creating a screenwriting conference in Toronto. 

The party at The Fifth later that night was a blast and after speaking with Jen in such a casual atmosphere I couldn’t wait for her seminar the next day. 

With the eclectic and inspiring roster of speakers, my learning curve over the weekend was pretty steep. This morning as I was reading over my notes I really just felt so grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate. It’s like I already feel like a better writer just by being in the room with those people.  

Maria is working on PASSPORT, a one-hour drama that probes the complexities and conundrums of the refugee housing experience.Tensions arise and prejudices surface when The New Hope Centre– a refugee housing residence — moves into in a middle class neighbourhood.

Myself and the team at FWC look forward to working with all these talented writers to promote their feature films! 

For more information on the conference, visit:


Guest Blogger: Danishka Esterhazy

I have always written my own screenplays. Because it has always felt right to move from that first initial spark of inspiration (usually an image), through to story, character and structure. Followed by production — all the elements of staging, lighting and coverage — and then into post. Right up to the final cut. I write, I direct and I edit. This has always been my preferred method of filmmaking. Immersive. Total. 

But with every film that I make, I become more excited by collaboration. It is a wonderful feeling to sit down and share ideas with a talented artist — whether they be a cinematographer, production designer, or actor. There is a unique and powerful creative pleasure to be found in these relationships. Even during disagreements. Because a great collaborator will challenge you to rise to new levels.

And so it is with this attitude that I embarked on my very first literary adaptation — a short film called The Singing Bones.

It started by accident. In 2011, I was attending the UCLA Writers Studio. At one of the group gatherings, I looked around the room and spied Francesca Lia Block. She is hard to miss. She was absolutely the most magnetic (and best dressed) person in the room. Francesca oozes style and charm. I nearly jumped out of my seat.

I had been a fan of Block’s writing for years. Most people know FLB for her celebrated Weetzie Bat novels. But it was her wonderful dark and modern retelling of fairytales that I loved the most. 

Impulsively, I tweeted a short message about my excitement to see FLB in person. And, to my surprise, she tweeted back! She invited me out for lunch. After an hour of great vegetarian noodles and a passionate discussion of fairytales and feminism — we were already talking about making a film together.

Fast forward to 2014. I optioned Block’s story “Bones” from her short story collection The Rose and the Beast. It is a retelling of the fable Bluebeard. And an amazing story about a young woman discovering her own power and her creative voice.

The writing experience was an absolute dream. Often, I find the writing process to be the most demanding, draining and disenchanting part of the filmmaking process. An exhausting uphill trek. But working with Block was inspiring. First, I loved her story. It was very important for me to respect her original vision and her voice as a writer. In the option agreement, FLB did not have any legal right to input or approval of my screenplay. But I sent her every draft as both a courtesy and opportunity. I valued her notes. She was able to provide me with deeper insight into her characters while also respecting my creative freedom as the screenwriter. 

Development and production were not easy. I had a lot to learn about crowdfunding as this was my first experience raising money through Indiegogo. I was also forced to recast my lead actors (heartbreaking!) after immigration complications made this Canadian-American co-production more challenging than I ever expected, But, luckily, I was aided by my fabulous producers Bianca Beyrouti, Rebecca Gibson and Ashley Hirt. I also had an amazing volunteer crew. Post-production is nearly complete and we expect the film to premiere this summer or fall.

So, would I adapt another short story or novel? Absolutely. I don’t expect every collaboration to be as special as The Singing Bones. But I have seen how great the process can be when two like-minded storytellers come together for all the right reasons.

-Danishka Esterhazy

Danishka Esterhazy is a Winnipeg-based filmmaker. Her debut feature, Black Field, was released theatrically by Century Street Distribution and broadcast on SuperChannel. Her second feature, H&G, was released theatrically by MultipleMedia Entertainment and broadcast on The Movie Network. She is currently preparing to shoot her third feature, Level 16, with Markham Street Films.


First Weekend Club is excited to welcome Toronto-based Factory Film Studio as our newest partner. As part of the partnership, we will be bringing 9 new Canadian films as well as collaborating with them to support some of their theatrical releases.  We are looking forward to working with them and sharing even more great home-grown films with Canadians!


At the wee hour of 6:30 am I walked into a retro fitted office building in Railtown at 714 Alexander Street in Vancouver, home of Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM for an interview with Kirk Lapointe. What a cool space, with the open office concept, a glass sound room for the interviews and art deco furniture in the waiting area. I sat and listened to the show for a bit as I was mentally preparing myself to run through all the Canadian films that are now playing (and there are a lot). I thought it was going to be one of those quick and dirty 5 minute interviews where I had to spit out all the important information quickly before I would be ushered out the door to make room for the next guest. I was delightfully surprised, however, to discover Kirk wanted to have a conversation with me about Canadian film and the current landscape, and of course, I was a very willing participant. If you are interested in what I had to say about the state of the Canadian film industry, about Canadian directors and actors working in Canada or choosing to go down south, and my thoughts on setting up a screen quota system similar to what happened in the music industry, take a listen. We’d love to hear your opinions about any of the subjects discussed as well.

Interview length: 18 minutes


Written by Anna-Lea Boeki

Forsaken was the perfect film to watch with my father over the Easter weekend since it matched the theme of ‘new beginnings’. Kiefer Sutherland’s character, John Henry Clayton, in returning home, wants to put his gun slinging days behind him and reconcile with his estranged father, played by real-life father, Donald Sutherland who is the town’s Reverend. 

The challenge to remain a pacifist becomes increasingly difficult as the community of frontier families deal with the likes of James McCurdy (Brian Cox) and his gang of thugs, who intimidate them in order to extort their property. The option to fight violence with violence, becomes a not-so-black-and-white issue. I’m admittedly not a watcher of Westerns, however, with the recent terror attacks around the world, this classic ode to the genre reflects the relevancy of our human condition and the endeavour for good to triumph of over evil. 

The quintessential ‘strong silent type haunted by his past’ portrayed by Kiefer conveys a strong performance with raw, pained expressions forming his character rather than relying on much dialogue. He manages to honour the cowboy code of ‘standing by your word’ in his choice to selectively not answer questions. Donald’s character, although brash and attempting to evoke a dialogue with his son, also reveals so much more with the bare, conflicting emotion in his face and eyes: love, anger, loss, betrayal, fear and pride. Even the bad guys, played by Aaron Poole and Michael Wincott draw from a strong repertoire of looks that could kill. 

Father and son have a particularly touching and potent scene that occurs in the church, where, for a moment, they drop their macho persona and confess each other’s most vulnerable moments, ultimately allowing their relationship to heal. My father thought it was out of place and too gushy…but I felt it was essential and allowed us to understand the deep level of scars that war and violence had inflicted on John Henry. 

The stunning beauty of Alberta was the ideal backdrop for a story that reminds us that all is not as it seems. The harshness and lawlessness of the land, produces characters that leap to unfounded harsh judgments. By the end, there is a satisfying return to order that allows all misjudged characters their redemption. I thought it was a high complement that this film reminded my father of the highly acclaimed, award-winning 1953 Western, Shane

“You must watch it to compare,” he said. I thought I’d give it a try, after all – Star Wars is like a Western in space. So I did – and I can now say, I am a converted fan of the Western. 

Curious about this Canadian Western starring Kiefer and Donald Sutherland and Demi Moore?

Click to view Forsaken


Every March, lovers of film, music and digital innovation converge in the heart of Texas to celebrate the latest and the greatest in arts and culture, at the SXSW festival and conference. Honouring creative talent as royalty in the capitol-cool city of Austin, film industry and fans alike lined up in the sunshine for this year’s freshest   lime-squeeze of storytelling. First Weekend Club’s Alexandra Staseson was on the front lines (and a few times at the front of the line 😉 to support the Canadian filmmaking talent that shone under the spotlight at the festival in over 6 different film programs!  FWC congratulates the Canadian talent paving the way in the Wild West at SXSW 2016!  Get to know the films that played, and their talented filmmakers below. Keep an eye out for these films coming to multiple-screens and platforms in the future!


It truly was a great night for Canadian film as the industry gathered in downtown Toronto to celebrate the best of 2015. Host, Norm MacDonald brought his unique wit to the festivities by starting off the evening suggesting the presenters and winners refer to the CSA statuette as ‘the Candy’ in honour of Canadian comedy legend, John Candy.

Little Jacob Tremblay was first up to present and to take up the challenge, saying “and the Candy goes to…” It quickly became a trend with presenters and winners taking up the challenge. Which leads me to the natural conclusion that the song “I Want Candy” should become the official song of the CSAs. As a side-note, this kid could have a future in comedy as his first line was “Thank you Mr Norm Macdonald, my dad says you’re a funny guy.”

Canadian co-pro, ROOM, swept the major categories by taking home prizes for best actor, actress, director and film, as well as in makeup, editing and adapted screenplay. 

HYENA ROAD also won big with awards in visual effects and sound.

The award for cutest acceptance speech of the night went to Jacob Tremblay as he accepted his Best Actor award. “I can’t believe a kid like me won against a bunch of talented adults” he said, before going on to acknowledge Christopher Plummer as ‘a legend’.  

Congrats to curator, Tatiana Maslany for her win as Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role. Always a class act, she thanked all the cast including day players for making every day on set a great experience.

Jamie M. Dagg won for Best First Feature Film for RIVER–he’s someone to keep an eye on for great films to come! 

A nod to all the nominees who proved that Canadian film is alive and strong and our future is bright. The full winners’ list can be found at


Love Chet Baker and Ethan Hawke? Well, the Directors Guild of Canada, eOne, and TIFF invite you to attend the Premiere of Born to Be Blue on Friday, March 11, 7PM, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. A re-imagining of the famous jazz musician’s life as he prepares for his musical comeback, it is directed by Robert Budreau and stars Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo and Callum Keith Rennie.


Guest Blogger: Bern Euler

What an insane comeback the Canadian Film Fest has had. Since reintroducing ourselves to the landscape in 2012 we’ve grown solidly. We’re now at four days long, a crazy mad Industry Series that includes a $10,000 cash development prize, networking sessions, panel discussions and the iconic CFF Masterclass that kicks the festival off every year. Not to mention the parties. Oh, the parties. 

But we’re really about the movies, about our filmmaking talent, about our culture. It’s out there and it’s badass. Just this year, the amount of screening-worthy films that I had to say no to — just because we don’t have room — could’ve filled another festival. It’s just insane. We’re bursting at the seams here because every province is churning out artists with enthralling things to say and show. And I’ll never complain. 

And neither does the viewing public. The only complaint I hear is “Why haven’t I ever heard of this movie?! Where else is it playing? I want more!” Every year someone tells me these things and I eat it up. Because that’s what I’ve been saying the whole time. This year our Opening Night is Jeremy LaLonde’s HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN, we’re closing with Director X’s feature debut ACROSS THE LINE and our Masterclass is going to be full of established directors directing well-known actors. And that’s just the tip of the Baffin Island iceberg, as they say. Or maybe no one says that. It doesn’t matter. 

We’re so glad to be holding our 10th annual event this year at The Royal in Little Italy from March 30-April 2. Our filmmakers deserve it, the public wants it and Canada needs it. Here’s to 10 more years of watching mesmerizing films made by an incredibly talented people: Us.


Bern Euler
Festival Director 
Canadian Film Fest 
Fresh Voices in Independent Film 



Demystifying Digital Distribution

I had the great pleasure of moderating a panel on Demystifying Digital Distribution at the Available Light Film Festival in Whitehorse earlier this month. There were some great insights on this topic shared by my fellow panelists who included producer and distributor Avi Federgreen from IndieCan, distributor Dylan Marchetti from Amplify Releasing and Suzanne Crocker, a multi award winning filmmaker, All the Time in the World.

During our discussion we explored the changing landscape of releasing a film in Canada and discussed some of the opportunities and challenges filmmakers face today. We also discussed the various facets of distributing a film, from festival screenings, to theatrical release through to online distribution. We all agreed that the theatrical release is no longer the ‘be all and end all’ for a film’s release. As Avi said, it’s great for a filmmaker to get a theatrical release and have their film play on the big screen, but often it’s not practical and can be extremely costly. Dylan argued that in many cases it makes no sense to book a film in a movie theatre for multiple screenings per day for a week, particularly a low budget film with no star’s attached. Most of those screenings play to an audience of two or three people at best. What a colossal waste of money. I agreed that in many cases it is better for the filmmaker to book a theatre for one screening in their home city, pack the house and then release day and date, or shortly thereafter, on VOD. 

Although there was general agreement with this approach, Avi pointed out that some films are required by Telefilm Canada to have a minimum of one week in three cities, and if a filmmaker wants to be reviewed by the critics they must have a proper theatrical release. We speculated as to whether Telefilm will change their policies as we start seeing more success with alternative distribution models. There’s no way around getting those critics reviews though.  The question is, how important are they? I know you can’t guarantee that your film will get reviewed and even if you could, there is certainly no guarantee you’ll get a good review. 

The other consideration for going the theatrical route, is if you want to play in a Cineplex theatre, which dominates over 80% of the theatres in Canada, you cannot release on VOD within 90 days of it’s theatrical screening. That’s a long time to wait after a one or two week theatre run (three weeks if you are lucky). Any buzz generated for your film during it’s theatrical will be long gone and forgotten. You have to start your VOD marketing campaign from ground zero and with a limited budget you may have little to no impact. 

In a perfect world, you would have a strong festival screening at a significant, well respected festival, then quickly move into your theatrical release in Canada, day and date with your US release, and then immediately follow that with your launch on VOD.  Unfortunately, we seldom see that perfect scenario unfold, and it’s particularly unlikely for the smaller films.  In fact, it is very difficult for low, or smaller budget films to even book a theatre, and it can be near impossible to time it with an American release. If you happen to get an American release, your southern distributor will then insist that you not release your film online until it has had it’s theatrical release in the States. This is something Suzanne is currently experiencing with her film All The Time In The World and her American distributor is basically forbidding her to release online in Canada. Unfortunately, unlike the title of Suzanne’s film, filmmakers don’t have the leisure of time, and if there is too much of it between festival, theatrical and online distribution your film can quickly go stale. 

I like Dylan’s recommendation. He said a low budget film that is likely to be subjected to this kind of waiting game torture is much better off to plan a VOD launch immediately following a significant festival screening. By doing so you can ride the wave of publicity buzz generated by the festival and people will more likely seek out your film to watch online. It’s a cost effective way to build your audience and keep the momentum rolling. 

From here we moved into talking about aggregators – that’s an expensive business and from what I gathered it’s not necessarily the best approach for smaller films. First off, you have to pay approximately $1,000 to work with an aggregator and every time you want to send your film to a VOD platform the aggregator will charge you another $175 for delivery. They don’t help market your films, but just dump them on the VOD sites and walk away. The problem is, if you want to get your film on iTunes or Netflix you have to either have a distributor or work with an aggregator as these two giants will not deal with individual filmmakers. 

There are other platforms that filmmakers can go directly to though. Suzanne is in favour of Vimeo as they only take 10% of sales and you set the price. This is the DIY approach to distributing your film, which works for those who are great marketers and already have an existing and well established fan base. The biggest problem with Vimeo is that it is difficult to find new films unless you know exactly what you are looking for. 

Another great platform is CanadaScreens – Ok, I know I’m a tad biased about this one but it really is pretty cool. First off, if you already have a pro-res file it will cost you nothing to get it on CanadaScreens. If the film needs to be digitized, it will just cost $100 (much less than the $1,000 to go through an aggregator). Content is curated and actively marketed by a savvy social media team; and we promote the service as a place to discover great Canadian films so people who haven’t heard about your film will be exposed to it. You can find out more about CanadaScreens here.

Once you figure out your online releases strategy and what platforms you are going to be on then make sure you have the assets to attract your audience. Avi commented on how important it is to have a simple, clean poster. Remove all the laurels, keep your graphics to a minimum, don’t have actor names or quotes. Remember the VOD poster is not the same as the theatrical poster as your audience’s first exposure to your movie will be captured in a thumb nail. Keep it simple.  

Dylan said if you can’t get a professionally cut trailer (and he sternly advised against filmmakers cutting their own trailers) then just take a :30 second clip from the film – a teaser of sorts. You must have something to preview. Both Avi and Dylan also strongly recommended that filmmakers have their own YouTube channel where they post their trailers, and warned filmmakers against trying to monetize them. You’ll frustrate you audience if you make them watch an ad before your trailer, which is in fact another ad. 

In closing, it’s an exciting time to be a filmmaker. It’s easier then ever to make movies and if you have some social media savvy, are committed to promoting your work, there are many avenues for you to take to help find your audience.